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Jude Law in 'Hamlet' on Broadway: What did the critics think?

October 7, 2009 |  2:49 pm

Hamlet Quite possibly the best-looking Hamlet ever, Jude Law is currently taking time out from his busy movie career to play what is often called the most difficult role in the English language.

The 37-year-old British actor (left) opened this week in Shakespeare's "Hamlet" at the Broadhurst Theatre on Broadway. The production, directed by  Michael Grandage, originated in London at the Donmar Warehouse.

The current cast includes Geraldine James as Gertrude, Kevin R. McNally as Claudius, Ron Cook as Polonius, Peter Eyre as the Ghost, Gwilym Lee as Laertes and Gugu Mbatha-Raw as Ophelia.

As Culture Monster previously reported, the London production, which opened in the spring, met with generally favorable reviews, with critics remarking on Law's facility with Shakespearean verse and convincing stage presence as the melancholy prince of Denmark.

But the U.S. production seems to have left many reviewers unimpressed. The critical slings and arrows are raining down heavy on Law and the production as a whole. Keep reading to find out more...

The New York Times' Ben Brantley faulted Law's overly physical performance by comparing him to an Olympic track athlete. He added: "People who ask for a little introspection from the man whose name is a byword for that activity may find it perplexing that this Hamlet never seems to look inward, which means that he never grows up — or grows, period."

David Rooney of Variety called Law's performance "a mixed bag -- in some ways impressive, in others distancing. His is less the brooding prince than the Extremely Pissed-Off one. The majority of his lines are spat out in passionate anger or disgust, sustaining a level of intensity that becomes wearing." He wrote that the production is " accessible" but is "rarely exciting and even less often moving."

The Washington Post's Peter Marks objected to Law's gestural approach to the role: "If the verse includes an allusion to heaven, you can bet Law will point to the sky. If Hamlet makes a reference to a jungle animal, sure as shootin' Law turns into one. For every action of any other actor on the stage, he supplies four, and he never stops gesticulating. Is the idea here that Law's Hamlet thinks all the world's a college stage?"

One voice of praise came from Charles McNulty of the Los Angeles Times, who wrote that "Jude Law may not be the most emotionally piercing or philosophically profound Hamlet, but he brings an admirable balance to this most challenging of Shakespearean roles." He added that the "handsomeness of his interpretation is more than skin deep. He succeeds at catching what the Romantic-era critic William Hazlitt described as the protagonist's 'high enthusiasm and quick sensibility.'"

Another positive review came from The New York Post's Elisabeth Vincentelli, who wrote that Law "projects a brooding intensity that befits a character obsessed with vengeance. And in the daunting soliloquies he combines seemingly contradictory qualities of self-doubt and ardor." She added: "It's to the credit of Grandage and his team that they realized a simple fact: You don't reinvent a wheel that's been rolling along nicely for centuries -- you just make sure it spins smoothly."

John Simon of Bloomberg, in one of the harshest reviews, wrote that if this production of "Hamlet" were a car, "it would most likely be recalled as a defective model." He faulted Grandage's staging for resembling a "B-movie" but added that Law "gets away with a fair amount of this nonsense; his energized and kinetic readings of the soliloquies are, at times, rather welcome."

-- David Ng

Photo: Jude Law takes his bow in the Broadway production of "Hamlet." Credit: Andrew H. Walker / Getty Images